Renegade travel agent brings ticket pricing fight to America

By | August 22nd, 2008

What’s the most maddening thing about airfares? Probably the pricing. You’re offered a low “base” fare, only to have fees, taxes and surcharges tacked on to it. By the time it’s all added up, the fare has doubled. Why can’t they just quote an all-inclusive price to begin with?

That’s what Stanley Gyoshev, who founded the online travel agency Lessno with Assen Vassilev, thought. So they did something about it. They successfully lobbied the European Union to change its pricing rules. Now they’re setting their sight on the United States. I recently spoke with Gyoshev about his efforts to change the way travelers buy tickets.

Q: How did you get the EU to change its airfare rules?

Gyoshev: We have always fought for fairness and disclosure, so when the Meglena Kuneva, the European Union Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, announced that she was going to examine Web sites selling air travel products for such shenanigans, we prepared and presented a policy brief explaining how the interest of the consumers in the air travel could be protected.

Commissioner Kuneva and the members of her cabinet responded so well to our brief and our recommendations and analysis that us in the joint working group of the Directorate Generals of Health and Consumers and General Energy and Transport in drafting new legislation on the subject. The rest is history.

So due to the hard work of Commissioner Kuneva and her colleagues, all EU air travel Web sites are required to publish the total price for a standard ticket, so travelers can compare the prices.

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Q: It’s a little unusual to find a travel company pushing this kind of rule change. What’s with that?

Gyoshev: We were never just about the technology or the interface. Our vision was that we were going to be an agent of the traveler, not a travel agency, which most of the time represents some corporate airline interest, not the interests of the traveler. So the first thing we did was set out to design a site that would be user-friendly and would help people find what they define as the best possible trip: the shortest travel time, the greatest probability of arriving on time, only exchangeable and refundable tickets, or the cheapest price.

Q: Here in the U.S., the government has a “hands off” approach to the airline industry, and particularly to the way in which fees are broken out on the Web. How do you plan to change things?

Gyoshev: In the U.S., there is no central agency which has the single role of protecting consumers, so there are several ways in which this could happen. For one, the federal government could increase consumer protection by using laws relating to unfair advertising — by insisting that airlines only advertise products and pricing which is readily available to the traveler without undue restrictions and red tape. The second is that since major international airlines are selling tickets in Europe, they will need to comply with the EU regulations. Since they need to make consumer friendly changes to their European Web sites and advertising, we are hoping there will be some carry-over to the U.S. sites.

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